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Global Financial Turmoil Taking Toll on Refugees, Displaced


U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warns adverse economic, social and political trends threaten to trigger large-scale displacement if the international community neglects the world's poor. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the annual U.N. Refugee Conference in Geneva.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says no one can live in isolation in today's world. Globalization binds everyone together for good or ill.

Guterres says globalization has lifted millions of people out of poverty, but it has also widened the gap between rich and poor. And, this, he says is prompting a growing number of people to leave their homes in search of greater security and better opportunities.

"Competition for scarce resources has become an increasingly important factor in provoking and perpetuating violence. We are confronted with a series of interlinked conflicts in an arc of crisis that stretches from South-West Asia to the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. And, some of them are deepening, with important implications for global security. More localized disputes have flared up in other parts of the world," said Guterres. "Climate change, extreme poverty and conflict are becoming more and more interrelated. And, as a consequence, forced displacement is increasing."

Guterres say thousands of Africans have fled their homes this year and gone to neighboring countries such as Botswana, Chad, Kenya, South Africa and Zambia in search of asylum or jobs. He says the work of the U.N. refugee agency has become more difficult and more expensive. He says expenses have risen from $1.1 billion in 2006 to $1.6 billion in 2008.

Guterres says high food and energy prices are putting the welfare of refugees seriously at risk.

"At the same time, I must point out that the resources required to support the 31 million people we care for are very modest indeed when compared, for instance, to the sums being spent-and it is necessary to do so - to bring stability to the international financial system," he added. "It would be tragic if the funds available to the humanitarian community as a whole, and UNHCR in particular, were to decline at the very time when the demands made upon us are increasing so dramatically."

High Commissioner Guterres ends with a stark warning. He notes a hungry man is an angry man. And, if the international community fails to meet the basic needs of the world's poor, he predicts more social and political turmoil can be expected in the years to come.